Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Report Draws Attention to UK's Stateless Children

Via Voice of Russia
A new BBC Inside Out episode is causing a flurry in UK news outlets after uncovering a hidden problem: hundreds of stateless children living on London's streets, at risk of exploitation or turning to crime. The report identifies migrant children whom possess no means of identification and are unable to take advantage of social programs, forcing some to turn to crime or prostitution.
One 17-year-old, who fled Libya without her family in 2009, said: “I have to do things that make me sick and ashamed for a few pounds, sometimes even pennies - just so I can eat or get somewhere to sleep for one night.” (The Week)
(If you live in the UK you can watch the clip here.)

This is obviously a horrible problem, but I can't help but wonder: what is the deal with calling all of these kids stateless?
New figures show at least 600 children in the capital are stateless — without a passport or official documentation linking them to their country of residence — and campaigners fear that number is rising.
Many of London’s stateless youths came to the UK legally but were never officially registered, meaning they cannot access education or apply for social housing. For teenagers like 17-year-old Ugandan-born Tony, attempting to become a legal citizen retrospectively can be virtually impossible. (London Evening Standard)
As we know from the 1954 Statelessness Convention, the definition of a stateless person is "a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law" (Art. 1). Not possessing a passport or documents might be a feature of statelessness, but its not enough. For example, Ugandan boy Tony, above, has a Ugandan father who kicked him out of his home at age 14. So although he is in an awful, heart-wrenching situation, Ugandan boy Tony is not "stateless", he is more likely Ugandan, and undocumented.

I bring this up because it may hurt the cause to call all these children stateless when in fact they are more likely "legally invisible," at risk of statelessness, or undocumented. The international human rights laws and UK immigrations laws applying to those groups are different, and are not as generous. If Tony were in fact stateless, and born in the UK, he would have a right to citizenship there that would simplify his problems tremendously. However, being legally invisible or undocumented he has limited options, at least under migration law. And that is a real problem- one that deserves more attention given the human rights issues at stake for these children.

The presence in each of these pieces of a disclaimer that most of the kids actually arrived in the UK legally suggests the reason for such a misnomer. If the kids were "illegal immigrant" homeless, would it be a news story? Does anyone feel sorry for kids with more complicated immigration issues, who aren't refugees or stateless?

If the public is outraged or concerned about this problem, it certainly doesn't help to call it something else to arouse additional sympathy. Its not necessarily the UK's "Homeless Stateless Kids" problem... might be more like the UK's "Homeless Kids" problem. And whether these children are actually stateless, legally invisible, or undocumented, don't they deserve some help in getting off the streets?

Read More:
Mapping Statelessness in the UK (Report from UNHCR and Asylum Aid)
Interview: Nando Sigona of Refugee Studies Centre (The Voice of Russia)
No Home, No Country, No Future: The 600 Stateless Children Living on London's Rough Streets (Evening Standard)
Hundreds of Stateless Children Live on UK City Streets (The Week)

And meanwhile, a report from Greece doesn't mince words: Teenage Migrants Trapped in Greece (IRIN)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Ending for Berlin Refugee Strike?

Image via Der Tagespiegel
The hunger strike of asylum seekers/ refugees at Berlin's famous Brandenberg Gate has come to an end after 8 days, following a long discussion yesterday evening between strikers and politicians. This is a highpoint but hopefully not the conclusion, of over a year of hardcore activism on refugee issues in Germany.

The protest, which followed last month's march throughout Germany, aimed in general to call attention to the plight of refugees in Germany but it also had several key specific demands (a full list can be found here.) Namely, to stop deportations, close refugee "camps" (holding facilities for asylum seekers, often in the middle of nowhere), recieve working permits and permission to learn German, and above all, to abolish the Residenzpflicht

Residenzpflicht is a long standing policy applying to asylum seekers that limits their freedom of movement while their asylum applications are being processed. They may not leave the administrative zone where they have first registered in Germany without a permit until their asylum status has been sorted out- which in extreme cases can take up to 10 years. Naturally, this policy keeps refugees in a sort of limbo, preventing them from fully integrating into society, traveling to visit relatives, studying at university, or finding work. This nasty law also means the state controls whether you can attend meetings or protests- limiting freedom of speech and the right to assemble.

With the recent refugee march from Wurzburg to Berlin, the refugees and their allies practiced non-violent resistence to these and similar policies, and sought to make the invisible visible.

Did it work? Der Tagespiegel reports today that the Berlin Senator for Integration Dilek Kolat and Refugee Commissioner Maria Böhmer visited the strikers and had a 4 hour discussion with them about their demands. Although the resulting quotes are basically platitudes, the politicians expressed their support of the protest and stated that they supported the desires of the protestors to learn German and start working. Böhmer apparently questioned whether the Residenzpflicht is still "up-to-date," and hinted that they would write a letter discouraging the arrest of the protestors for violating their residence restrictions by travelling to Berlin.

We'll have to keep an eye on the situation to see whether any changes are made to refugee housing, work permits, or the draconian Residenzpflicht. In the meantime, I think the protestors can cautiously celebrate a success.

Read More:
Refugees End Their Hungerstrike (Der Tagespiegel, in German)
Refugee Tent Action (The website of the Hunger Strikers)
AsylstrikeBerlin (Website with information about the refugee march and protest)
Karawane (Organization for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants)
Pro-Asyl (NGO supporting Refugees in Germany)

And finally, here's a clip from an awesome recent documentary by Denise Garcia Bergt about Germany's refugees and migrants, called "Residenzpflict."



Trailer Residenzpflicht from denisebergt on Vimeo.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Great Balkan Asylum Seeker Debate Continues

The last few weeks have brought a flurry of attention to the visa-free regime of the Balkans. Will the EU shut the whole thing down because of so-called "fake" asylum seekers?

In a letter to the European Commission, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands claimed that a flood of asylum seekers from ex-Yugoslavia have been slowing down their systems with false asylum claims. The idea of reintroducing visas in the region to prevent such exploitation has now been raised several times, but this has been the most serious request.

Germany in particular has been harping on this point, faced as they are with a "surge" of asylum-seekers from Serbia and Macedonia. Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich has stated that the influx "must be stopped immediately" and has advised that asylum seekers recieve vouchers for products rather than funds as one measure to reduce the attractiveness of Germany as a destination.

While the media often points out that such false asylum claims represent a small portion of the populations of the sending countries (and that most have come from Roma) there seems to be no attempt to verify that all the claims are fake, or, "economic based."

If the influx is so heavy that it has clogged asylum systems, then how can governments have possibly managed to properly evaluate the claims to determine that they are not legitimate under the refugee convention? Considering the many human rights problems in the sending countries- the same human rights issues preventing them from joining the EU in the first place- isn't it possible that some of the claims are legit?

The EU countries on the receiving end of such claims seem to be in a catch-22 here. If they admit that the claims are legit, than they have to provide refuge (and funds) to asylum seekers, as well as anger the governments which are currently trying to project a human rights friendly image. If they send them back, because there are no legitimate human rights claims emerging from these countries, then what is the hold-up from letting them into the EU? In a particular bind are countries like France and Belgium, who don't have such an amazing track record of their own when it comes to minority rights. France's record on Roma, in particular, leaves much to be desired, even in comparison to Serbia and Macedonia.

A thin line is being walked by these states when it comes to the Balkans, and if the free visa regime is indeed revoked, its going to be more than just asylum seekers who are put off.

Read More:
How to Solve the Balkan Asylum Crises (Balkan Insight)
Germany and France Demand Reintroduction of Balkan Visas (EU Observer)
EU Ministers to Curb 'Fake' Asylum Seekers (EuroActiv)
Germany Seeks to Halt Influx of Balkan Asylum Seekers (Der Spiegel)


Monday, October 15, 2012

New Report: Unnacompanied Minors on the Rise in Central America

The Women's Refugee Commission has released a new report on unaccompanied minors entitled,
"Forced from Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America". According to the report, the number of child migrants apprehended traveling to the US from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has almost doubled .

The research conducted by the WRC confirms that the continuing problem of gang violence, coupled with heavy-handed tactics of police that tend to consider all youngsters potential gang members, has led to the upswing and created a "lost generation." In addition, girls are at a particular disadvantage since they are vulnerable to both gang violence and gender-based violence. Although there is also poverty in these countries, the majority of children seem to be fleeing from violence.
The conditions in Central America have deteriorated to such a point that, when the WRC asked the children if they would risk the dangerous journey north through Mexico all over again now that they had direct knowledge of its risks, most replied that they would. They said that staying in their country would guarantee death, and that making the dangerous journey would at least give them a chance to survive. Many of them expressed a longing for their homelands, stating that they would not have left but for fear for their lives (at 7).
Since the conditions in these countries don't seem to the changing (and let's recall that the US has contributed to the Central American gang problem significantly) it makes sense for the Government to adjust certain measures to ensure the human rights of these children are protected.

The report outlines a number of ways for the government to improve its response, but I would like to emphasize one in particular: unnacompanied minors are not entitled to legal assistance or lawyers, and often have to defend themselves from deportation in court. This is just patently unfair and should be the first thing to change. When a child's life is in the balance, he or she should have a better shot than an elementary grasp of a foreign legal system and 15 minutes in front of an impatient judge.

The entire report is worth a read, and is available for download here.

Read More:
 Gangs without Borders (SFGate)
National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children
Gang-Based Asylum Claims (Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Images from Berlin's Refugee March

 This weekend in Berlin was the culmination of a long-organized Refugee Protest March, wherein Asylum Seekers protested against deportation and especially the conditions of "Residenzpflicht"- the policy preventing asylum seekers in Germany from travel or work. Here are some images from the March, which I attended.

"Right to Stay for All"- Youth Without Borders
"No Deportation for Refugees! Same Rights for All"
"Stop Deportation- Shut down Refugee Camps"

Even the police came by to show their support :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Video: Your ID, Your Rights

This is a neat video from UN Women showing Egyptian women claiming rights such as healthcare, inheritance, marriage and education after obtaining a national ID. The video also shows how the campaign was successful organized as a cooperation between the government and NGOs.

Kind of dry but definitely drives the point home. Check it out!

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Israeli Regulation Bars Some Non-Citizens from Filing Lawsuits

Child of a migrant worker in Israel, photo via Global Post
 The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that the Israeli Justice Minister has signed a new regulation requiring an Israeli ID or a foreign passport number to anyone wishing to file a lawsuit. If true, this law would seem to flagrantly violate many international human rights norms by preventing stateless persons, refugees and asylum seekers from having their day in Court.

Just to refresh your memory, the 1954 Statelessness Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, touches on the topic at article 16. 
Article 16: 1. A stateless person shall have free access to the Courts of Law on the territory
of all Contracting States.
2. A stateless person shall enjoy in the Contracting State in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the Courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also discusses access to Courts in several articles (see, e.g. Art.6-10), and the sentiment of right to legal personhood is echoed continuously throughout the human rights cannon. In other words, Israel could not possibly have failed to notice that a law like this would raise eyebrows, to say the least.

When pressed, the government has responded that,
"amendments were purely technical in nature, and ensured that litigants in possession of an Israeli ID number or foreign passport specified those details on court documents so that court registrars could be certain that they were dealing with the correct individuals.

“The regulation does not alter therefore the current legal situation regarding the basic right to access the courts,” wrote Dr. Peretz Segal, head of the Justice Ministry’s Legal Counsel department. (JPost)
Hmm. So either we have a regulation that would prohibit Palestinians, who de facto do no often possess a government-issued passport, along with a host of other non-citizens, from accessing basic Court procedures, OR we have a meaningless administrative hurdle that does not change the law. If so, why pass it in the first place?

After a few days of back and forth with the government (while Israel steadily garnered increasing attention from the media for this rule, see here, here and here) the Justice Ministry has agreed to review the rule, but is sticking to the story that this does not change anything, really.

Au contraire, says the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, among others.
Attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel warned Neeman the regulations will immediately deprive Palestinian residents of the territories, migrant workers and stateless individuals who have no passports the right to file claims in Israeli courts. ..."Technical matters become fundamental when they specify explicitly who will not be able to file claims in court."
Hopefully the negative attention this rule has attracted in advance of its debut in September will force the Israeli government to reconsider whether this is a step they really want to take. If not, I predict we will see continuing major action on the subject in the Fall. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Greece is at it Again: Mass Deportation Raids Over the Weekend

Via FoxNews
Very depressing news from Greece in the last few days, as the government has rounded up thousands for deportation and shamelessly sought to shift blame for financial issues onto the shoulders of non-citizens.
The minister, Nikos Dendias, defended the mass detentions, saying that a failure to curb a relentless flow of immigrants into Greece would lead the country, which is surviving on foreign loans, to collapse. “Our social fabric is at risk of unraveling,” Mr. Dendias told a private television channel, Skai. “The immigration problem is perhaps even greater than the financial one.”(NYT)
 Oh, if only that were true.

Unfortunately, it is far more likely that this is a cynical move to distract from the country's actual financial problems- reliance on foreign debt, risky lending, artificial inflation- by suggesting that this is an outsider problem, caused by foreigners.

As we have discussed previously in this blog, Greece's asylum system is dangerously backed up, with asylum seekers waiting for years to get a (mandatory) interview or possibly receive refugee status if they are entitled to. With Greece being an entry point into the EU, and with the masses of refugees pouring out of countries effected by the recent tumult in the Middle East, this has meant a compounding of problems- larger numbers of people waiting larger amounts of time to have their status regularized (or, alternatively, to reach a determination that they are not refugees and may legally be deported.) This means some people have been living in Greece for years, waiting to get their status regularized.

It is understandable that the Greek government is anxious to clear up this issue. However, the solution is not to utterly disregard human rights obligations, both under EU and international human rights law, by arbitrarily deporting anyone found during mass "immigration raids" to not possess papers. Not only are some of these individuals likely to be waiting for their appointment with the immigration services, but more to the point, deporting an individual who qualifies as a refugee is refoulement, and is reprehensible and illegal. And you can't tell whether a person is a refugee by a brief glance at their papers, or lack thereof. When 6,000 people are detained over one weekend, it is hard to believe that anyone received a fair shake at a refugee status determination interview.

As history has often demonstrated, in times of economic and social strife it is tempting to rely on xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment as a tool of distraction. But that doesn't mean they should get away with it.

Come on, Greece, you can do better.

Previously:
Greece: The Pressure is on to Fix an Failing Asylum System
Deja Vu: Greek Immigration Crackdown


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Go Guor! Stateless Marathoner to Compete in Olympics

The Olympics is typically a time when even the most timid of citizens become flag-wavers for their country, counting the medals their home country racks up and paying close attention when their country faces off against historical or modern rivals. But one Olympian is drawing media attention not because of his nationality but because of a lack thereof- stateless marathoner Guor Marial.

Marial was born in South Sudan, where he was one of countless children kidnapped and forced into labor during the Sudanese Civil War. As a refugee in Egypt, and later the United States, he left behind many deceased family members and has not seen his parents in 20 years (the complete story can be found here). Marial wouldn't be the first refugee of the Sudan conflict to compete in the Olympics. However, unlike Lopez Lemong, a Sudanese refugee who was a flag-bearer in the Beijing Olympics, Marial does not possess US Citizenship, and will be competing under the Olympic Flag. Despite being offered to compete for Sudan, Marial declined, “It’s not right for me to do that.  It’s not right for me to represent the country I refuged from.”

Media reports have been presenting the case as an uplifting, if bewildering, human interest story. Time noted that if he wins, Marial will stand on the podium while the Olympic hymn (rather than a national anthem) is played. Die Welt ran their article on him with the headline "No Flag and No Hymn." These Olympic trappings are so common that their lack is as headline-making as the shocking story that put him in this situation.

Other articles refer to him simply as a refugee, portraying him as an unoffficial Sudanese representative despite his strong declarations to the contrary.

With an estimated 12 million stateless and 43 million refugees worldwide, belonging to either group is not so remarkable in and of itself. More remarkable to me is the ability of the Olympics, a bastion of nationalism, to allow for some ambiguity in their ceremonial trappings in a way that represents the true nature of a world that is composed of citizens, stateless people, and everything in between. Its obvious that rather than being a disadvantage, being stateless will only cause Mr. Marial to receive even more support when he competes on August 12th.

Friday, June 1, 2012

European Network on Statelessness Launches

Exciting news! The long awaited European Network on Statelessness has launched, and has a new website packed with blogs and resources. The aim of the Network is to draw attention to the estimated 600,000 stateless person in Europe, while presenting news and resources useful to people interested in the subject. They'll also have a blog presenting views from the different Network members. Membership is open to organizations, and already many great organizations have joined, such as the Equal Rights Trust, Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Praxis Serbia. All are dedicated to the aim of promoting accurate information about the problem of statelessness in Europe.

With both government and civil society organisations often unaware of the problem, many stateless persons find themselves stuck in the margins of society without respect for their basic human rights. ENS was set up against this backdrop and to fill a perceived gap by acting as a coordinating body and expert resource for organisations across Europe who work with or come into contact with stateless persons.
Sounds great, right? So go check out the website, and encourage your organization to join!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Non-Citizen News Roundup

Protestor in Hungary- photo via ENAR
Kuwait: After last week's promise to grant citizenship to 3000 of the 100,000 stateless residents of Kuwait, the Bidoons are in the spotlight again for protests against the government. At a protest on Tuesday police used force, including batons, to disperse the crowd of over 200 and accused the protestors of violence against the police. The protestors were angered by a promise of identification that would have indicated their stateless status, thereby ensuring discrimination.
 Meanwhile, still convinced that this is not really their problem, the Kuwaiti government has requested some 42,000 passports for Bidoons from Iraq so that they can be issued work documents. (I'm sure Iraq was all, "Totally, we'll just send those right over!") Facing arrests, deportation and jail time the protestors continue on, which demonstrates that this problem is not going to go away without serious efforts by the government.


Hungary: As part of the continuing effort to shock the EU with their human-rights deviant behavior, Hungary is now being accused of locking up asylum seekers alongside criminals for months after arrival. Some have apparently been beaten and denied the opportunity to apply for asylum. If Hungary is indeed violating human rights norms on detention and refoulement, let's hope they manage to straighten out the system before 800 more ECtHR cases are filed against them. (Strasbourg must be SO sick of getting cases from Hungary..)

Hungary as a Country of Asylum (PDF via RefWorld)
And in short: 

Israel: Are asylum-seekers, particularly from Africa, facing discrimination and violence?

Australia: Politicians offer an idea for their asylum woes: Pay citizens to host asylum families. Well, its a better idea than detention or return, but will Aussies go for it?
Govt Defends Asylum Seeker Homestay Plan (via Sydney Morning Herald)

Afghanistan: Following a (fund-raising) conference in Geneva held by UNHCR, several countries have agreed to contribute $1.9 billion to support the return of refugees to Afghanistan. Wonder how much the US chipped in?
Countries Agree on 1.9B Afghan Refugee Strategy (via AP)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Excerpts from Arizona V. US

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Arizona, et. al, v US concerning the god-awful Arizona immigration law SB 1070. You can now read the whole transcript online, but in case you're not in the mood to read the whole, depressing thing, I thought I would provide some salient excerpts below.

The first issue that the justices really pounced on was the section of the law pertaining to holding a person for suspected immigration violation. The justices were concerned that the time taken to check on the suspect's immigration status could result in them being imprisoned for unreasonable stretches of time, and Paul Clement, atty for Arizona, emphasized that length of imprisonment would still be governed under the 4th amendment.
"JUSTICE GINSBURG: But how would the State officer know if the person is removable? I mean, that's sometimes a complex inquiry.
MR. CLEMENT: Well, Justice Ginsburg, I think there's two answers to that. One is, you're right, sometimes it's a complex inquiry, sometimes it's a straightforward inquiry. It could be murder, it could be a drug crime. But I think the practical answer to the question is by hypothesis, there's going to be inquiry made to the Federal immigration authorities, either the Law Enforcement Support Center or a 287(g) officer.
And presumably, as a part of that inquiry, they can figure out whether or not this is a removable offense, or at least a substantially likely removable offense.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Suppose it takes 2 weeks to make that determination, can the alien be held by the State for that whole period of time -MR.
CLEMENT: Oh, I don't think -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: -- just under section 6?
MR. CLEMENT:I don't think so, Your Honor, and I think that, you know, what -- in all of these provisions, you have the Fourth Amendment backing up the limits..."
Next, Clement had a chance to make his argument on federal preemption. Whenever states get into areas of governance that usually dominated by the federal government, there is the potential for a claim that the federal law "pre-empts" and overrules the state level law. Let's see Clement's argument.
"I do think as to section 3, the question is really -- it's a provision that is parallel to the Federal requirements, and imposes the same punishments as the Federal requirement.
So it's generally not a fertile ground for preemption. But of course, there are cases that find preemption even in those analogous circumstances. They're the cases that the government is forced to rely on."
He then goes on to differentiate the AZ law from the ones in other federal preemption cases that the government is likely to bring up. However, the gist of the argument is always that the law is duplicated, so its hard to say that it conflicts with the federal requirements.
"And so I think the right analysis is really the analysis that this Court laid out in its Whiting decision, which says that in these kinds of cases, what you look for is whether or not the State scheme directly interferes with the operation of the Federal scheme."
Next up to bat we had the atty for the government, our hero Donald Verrilli. Verrilli comes out immediately with the main federal preemption argument:
"GENERAL VERRILLI: Mr. Clement is working hard this morning to portray S.B. 1070 as an aid to Federal immigration enforcement. But the very first provision of the statute declares that Arizona is pursuing its own policy of attrition through enforcement, and that the provisions of this law are designed to work together to drive unlawfully present aliens out of the State.
That is something Arizona cannot do, because the Constitution vests exclusive -JUSTICE
SOTOMAYOR: General, could you answer Justice Scalia's earlier question to your adversary? He asked whether it would be the Government's position that Arizona doesn't have the power to exclude or remove -- to exclude from its borders a person who's here illegally.
GENERAL VERRILLI: That is our position, Your Honor. It is our position because the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the national government."
After the assist from Sotomayor, Verrilli spends the rest of the time getting picked apart by Roberts and Scalia.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You think there are individual cases in which the State can call the Federal Government and say: Is this person here illegally?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Yes, certainly. But that doesn't make -CHIEF
JUSTICE ROBERTS: Okay. So doesn't that defeat the facial challenge to the Act?
Problematically for the government, they didn't rely on the possibility of racial profiling as a reason to challenge the law, although that was the constant "elephant in the room" of the argument.
GENERAL VERRILLI: ... Now, we are not making an allegation of racial profiling. Nevertheless, there are already tens of thousands of stops that result in inquiries in Arizona, even in the absence of S.B. 1070. It stands to reason that the legislature thought that that wasn't sufficient and there needed to be more.
And given that you have a population in Arizona of 2 million Latinos, of whom only 400,000 at most are there unlawfully -
JUSTICE SCALIA: Sounds like racial profiling to me.
From here, it gets really messy. After failing to sell the preemption claim (Scalia and Roberts interpreted the Arizona statute as "helping" the federal government) Verrilli focused on the foreign relations aspect.
VERRILLI: What they're going to do is engage, effectively, in mass incarceration, because the obligation ...[is]...to enforce Federal immigration law, which is what they claim they are doing .... And so -- so you're going to have a situation of mass incarceration of people who are unlawfully present. That ... poses a very serious risk of raising significant foreign relations problems.And these problems are real. That is the problem of reciprocal treatment of United States citizens in other countries.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: So you're saying the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?
GENERAL VERRILLI: No.
UGH. As we can see, this did not turn out well. The real problem at stake in SB 1070 is that police can just pull over any Latino, incarcerate them for a while and ask the government to figure out their immigration status. Problematically, due to VAWA, TPS, and asylum, this isn't always the straightforward question that one might think. So, because of our complex immigration laws in combination with this terrible statute, the result is a situation that allows for the incarceration and punishment of a section of the population to the extent that, even if they are legally here, they won't want to live in Arizona any more. And that is the point of the law. "Attrition through enforcement."


Harassing and annoying every Latino citizen of Arizona is racist, inhumane, and embarrassing for the US. But is it unconstitutional? Its going to take some fancy footwork to make that claim from the arguments in this case.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Freedom of Movement Restrictions: Coming to a European Country Near You

This week has brought some distressing news for fans of freedom of movement. 

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has published a report revealing that the German and French Ministers of the Interior are seeking to modify the Schengen Agreemment, the treaty that allows for passport and visa-free travel throughout most of the territory of the EU. According to the letter, they seek to reintroduce border controls for temporary periods of 30 days in order to "curb illegal immigration". This comes on the heels of some German admonishments of Greece in failing to protect its borders (instead opting for creepy immigrant round-ups that violate human rights) AND results of immigration surveys showing that many persons from Southern Europe and elsewhere continue to seek asylum in Western European countries.

Der Spiegel quotes sources speculating that this is all political posturing to appeal to far-right voters in time for the French election. But is it? Following Sarkozy's adventures in deporting Roma from France (which, as you'll recall, drew comparisons to Nazi Germany's deportations of persons on the basis of ethnic background) its not so clear that conservative politicians aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is and disregard Schengen.(Just look at Denmark!)

And while we have Germany and France promising not to let people out, we have Macedonia promising to keep certain kinds of people in. What kind of people, you ask? 
In 2011, the ERRC documented at least 10 cases in which Romani people were denied the right to exit the country at Macedonian border crossings to Bulgaria and Serbia. Border guards regularly stop Romani individuals who they believe may be seeking asylum abroad, denying them the right to leave the countries.
..You guessed it. The European Roma Rights Centre is calling on the Macedonian government to end discrimination against Roma people seeking to travel outside of their country. (Which, if I remember correctly, is a basic human right.) But this baseline discrimination might be just the beginning- the government has announced that it will introduce measures to prevent persons from leaving the country who have once claimed asylum in another state. This measure as well is more than likely to heavily target Roma.

Between Southern Europe cracking down on immigrant and refugee rights and making it harder to move north, and Northern European countries disregarding their own treaties for politically opportunistic reasons, we have a real problem in Europe right now. The question is, what do the citizens of Europe value more? Their freedom of movement, or their freedom from foreigners?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ECtHR backs deportation of settled migrant in Balogun v. UK

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights released a disappointing decision in the case Balogun v. UK. The headline out of the case is that the UK may deport long-term settled migrants for sufficiently serious offenses without violating Article 8. Let's dig a little deeper and see what the implications of this ruling may be.

Facts: The applicant, B, is a Nigerian immigrant who was born in '86 and has been in the UK since the age of 3 (this is debated a bit, but at least since age 5.) He lived with an allegedly abusive Aunt and was granted indefinite leave to remain after being kicked out of her house, and entered the foster care system until age 18 when he began to live by himself. From then on he has a criminal record of several counts of theft and possession of controlled substances (all occurring before he reached the age of 21). After a final count of possession with intent to distribute, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison and put into deportation proceedings. He appealed on human rights ground, and the first instance court found that, since he didn't have a significant private life in the UK, his deportation was proportional to the crime.
 With regard to his private life, while it was accepted that he had been in the country since a young age and had been educated there, as well as gaining some work experience, it was not considered that these ties were sufficiently strong to render his deportation an interference with his private life. It appeared that his mother still lived in Nigeria and, even if contact had been lost, as claimed by the applicant, there was no reason why it could not be re-established. Whilst the applicant would have practical difficulties in relocating to Nigeria, he could re-establish his private life there.
Several appeals and a suicide attempt later, we end up at Strasbourg debating whether this deportation violates article 3 (prohibition against torture) or article 8 (freedom from interference with family life).

Ruling: Article 3 is thrown out for being "manifestly unfounded" and I don't care to debate that since this is not an issue involving refoulement. 

Article 8, on the other hand, is where it gets interesting. Both the applicant and the UK spend their time arguing about the nature of the applicants connections to the UK. B claims that he has a long-term girlfriend, his Aunt is like a mother to him, and he has friends and employment connections that he may utilize now that he out of jail and off of drugs. The UK meanwhile contends that B has no significant friends and family interests, at least nothing serious enough to outweigh the public interest served by deporting a threat to public order.

The Court more or less agrees. Having a girlfriend and a few scattered relatives with whom you are on bad terms does not amount to a family life (um, guys, isn't that what most families look like?) but it does make a private life. And importantly, the Court recognizes that the length of time spent in the UK, and having grown up almost exlusively in the care of UK social services means that he has significant ties to the country and will be strongly effected by deportation. However, his criminal record ultimately outweighs these considerations.
He was left at the age of three with an aunt who, according to the applicant and to social services, ill-treated the applicant. He was thrown out by this aunt at the age of fifteen and was thereafter taken into foster care. He has therefore not only spent by far the greater part of his childhood in the United Kingdom and been entirely educated in that country, but has been partly brought up in the care of the United Kingdom’s social services. These elements of the applicant’s background contribute significantly to the Court’s finding that his ties to the United Kingdom are stronger than those to Nigeria. However, while the Court views with sympathy the circumstances of the applicant’s formative years, the fact remains that he is responsible for his own actions. Particularly in light of the fact that the majority of the applicant’s offences were committed when he was already an adult, the Court finds that the applicant cannot excuse his past criminal conduct by reference to his upbringing.
 Even with the impact on his private life, the UK's deportation of B does not violate article 8.

Response: It is obvious from the slant of this blog that I would disagree with this ruling. Legally, I don't think this is a totally outrageous ruling (reasonable people can always disagree), but the underlying premise is one that I think is extremely damaging and unfair.

Someone that lived in the UK since the age of 3, and was raised more or less by the system, is a product of that country. Deporting them to Nigeria is a non-sequitor and obliterates the chance for such a troubled individual to ever lead a normal life. It punishes him for the actions of his parents or parents in moving illegally to the UK, that he could not help or influence. It punishes Nigeria by sending back a bitter individual with a criminal history that will have a hard time adjusting to a completely foreign life. It violates the individual's right to a private life, and it encourages the UK to dump problematic foreigners back to countries they have hardly any connections with.

Its a bad decision and is not justified by out-dated drug charges for which the individual has already served time. B was not a drug dealer at age 3, but became one after spending his entire childhood in the UK. This is a home-grown problem, and regardless how many criminals the UK deports, they will find new ones that they cannot.

As ever, it is my opinion that deportation is not the only, nor the best solution.

ECtHR: Case of Balogun v. the United Kingdom 

And here's a nice fear-mongering Telegraph article pushing for more deportations.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Serbia: MoU on birth registration of legally invisible Roma

Min. of Human and Minority Rights Milan Markovic
Between being weeks away from an election and locked into an EU accession process, Serbian politicians are in major suck-up mode, especially on transparency and human rights. However, there's no reason not to take today's news optimistically:
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Ombudsman signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing the basis for closer cooperation to address the issue of birth registration of Roma ethnic minority who are not registered in official records. -(google translate of UNHCR Serbia's release)
The deputy head of EU delegation to Serbia, Adriano Martins, was also in attendance. Serbia has been under major pressure to advance the human rights situation of the Roma, and pledged back in December to try to make citizenship more widely available at the UNHCR conference of ministers. So far, however, they have done exactly nothing to implement the 1961 Convention or improve their poorly organized birth registration laws. As it stands, persons are required to present an identity to card to register the birth of their child and therefore, children of legally invisible persons are rendered legally invisible themselves. Since I am working on this issue right now, I have some unofficial, opinionated recommendations for what they should attempt do with this MoU:

1.)With the help of UNHCR, establish a procedure for determining statelessness of parents in order to comply with Article 1 of the 1961 Convention (requiring that children born stateless are granted citizenship.)

2.) Allow all persons giving birth on the territory of Serbia- with or without documents- to register their children at birth, as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This should apply to all persons giving birth on the territory without any discrimination.

3.) Allow for late registration of persons who never made it into the birth registry books. Allow for a range of evidence to prove the fact of birth, including use of witnesses and/ or DNA tests.

4.) Make birth registration and late registration mandatory and free, and disseminate information about the benefits of the procedure through various means, such as radio ads.

These steps may be more difficult to implement after elections and the accompanying shuffle in characters, but it does seem as though the time is right for focusing on improvements to human rights standards. I think NGO's and stakeholders should use this momentum and the spotlight of the EU to mount additional pressure on the government to do something other than signing agreements and publicizing them.

Regardless, its great to see the Serbian government paying attention to this issue and ostensibly moving forward towards a solution.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Non-Citizen News Roundup

Greece police roundup immigrants this week, via LA Times
There's a lot going on in world of non-citizens this week!

Greece: Last week I noted the alarming news out of Athens, where police arrested some 500 people during an "immigration sweep" in the Capitol that they announced would be continued regularly. Amnesty International has added their voice to the growing concern about the practice, noting:
There are no appropriate facilities at Greece's borders for the identification of those in need of international protection, such as victims of torture and unaccompanied or separated asylum-seeking children.
Detaining people arbitrarily in massive "sweeps" without the necessary protective measures for persons entitled to different forms of protection violates Greece's international obligations and contributes to stigmatization of a group that is already at risk in the country. I said it before and I'll see it again: Greece would be far better off using the resources needed for such massive police actions on clearing through their backlog of immigration cases and regularizing the status of those who are entitled to it.

USA: Despite the Obama administration's ambitious new immigration guidelines for LGBTI persons, they aren't out of the water on gay immigration issues yet. A class action suit filed Monday by 5 same-sex couples will challenge DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) - a 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Since immigration and citizenship are the realm of the federal government, the impact is that even couples who marry legally (e.g., in NY) cannot access immigration benefits such as a green card for the foreign partner. Obviously this causes many heart-rending situations where a married couple may have to constantly fear that one spouse will be deported.

The case is being brought by a non-profit called Immigration Equality, and I will definitely be following it closely here as it proceeds through the legal system. This could be a landmark case for immigration equality in the United States and since the Obama administration has already announced that they consider DOMA to be unconstitutional it could be a slam dunk. I'm excited about this one, guys!
Immigration Equality: Taking our Case to Court

Ghana/ Liberia: There's been talk for years (at least since 2008) of Ghana activating the cessation clause and closing down refugee camps housing Liberians who fled during years of civil war. (Recall that they cessation clause of the 1951 Convention comes into effect when the situation that produced the potential for refoulement to the home country ceases to exist.) Annnnd now the talk continues, with the Ghanaian government planning to activate the cessation clause June 30th but hoping that most refugees will opt for voluntary repatriation before then. For many of the refugees who have lived in the country for years, returning to Liberia is simply not an option, and they will seek options to regularize their status before being kicked out. I'll be sure to post developments. 
Relief Net: Days numbered for Liberian Refugees

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Nowhere People" Opening in Belgrade Highlights Statelessness

The Serbian Speaker of the House introducing the "Nowhere People" exhibit
Monday in Belgrade was the opening of "Nowhere People"- an exhibit of photographs by Greg Constantine whose beautiful and haunting photos of stateless persons have been featured on the blog before. The opening was hosted by the Speaker of the House, Ms. Dejanovic, and by UNHCR who both congratulated Serbia on taking major steps to reduce statelessness by signing the 1961 Convention as well as pledging to help the legally invisible with the law on non-contentious procedure (that would allow legally invisible persons to be registered.)

As could be expected the photographs were amazing, and well-curated with small explanations next to each in English and Serbian. However the proceedings were just a teensy bit odd in my opinion. After all, its exciting to sign a convention and draft a law, but it doesn't mean much if the convention isn't implemented and the law isn't even put up for a vote. The speeches made it seem as though reducing statelessness in Serbia is a done deal, when in fact the real work hasn't even begun.

Nevertheless, the exhibit was well-attended and certainly brought attention to the issue, as seen by the plethora of stories in the Serbian press on the subject. That's all good... but now let's see less talk and more action!

Photographs and attendees

B92: 30,000 People in Serbia have no personal ID

Friday, March 30, 2012

Updates: Statelessness

Photo by Balarama Heller, check out the full portfolio here
As we noticed yesterday with Greece, states tend to repeat their mistakes when it comes to immigrants. Well, what goes around, comes around. Here's some more updates on issues that have previously been addressed on this blog that are back in the limelight:

Issue: Retroactive De-Nationalization of Haitians in the Dominican Republic
Update: Jesuit Refugee Service Calls for an end to the retroactive application of the citizenship law and immediate re-issuance of birth certificates to people effected.

Issue: Kuwait deals harshly with its Stateless Bidoons
Update: According to Zahra Albarazi at the Statelessness Programme Blog, the issue is creeping into parliamentary debate and there is some talk of granting rights.

Issue: On the border of India and Bangladesh live many stateless "enclave people" without access to basic rights
Update: Some ethnic Indians living in Bangladesh demand merging with the country of their residence and receiving Bangladeshi citizenship- they even celebrated Independence Day.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Deja Vu: Greek Immigration Crackdown

Last year I wrote about Greece and the pressure they are facing to get their immigration system to conform with international standards, while dealing with a giant backlog of asylum cases and daily influx of new immigrants. I noted at the time that the current system was at the same time too slow and too cursory to be able to properly consider asylum claims, and that a large new grant from Norway might help them attempt to reform this system.

Evidently, they've taken a different tact.
Police in the Greek capital said they have detained 501 people in an operation they say will be repeated "on a daily basis" to combat illicit trade, illegal immigration, drug dealing and other criminal activities.
The majority of those detained were foreign nationals in a sweep of central Athens.
 As was noted previously, hundreds of asylum seekers in Athens sit in legal limbo waiting for their applications to be processed, some having waited 10 years or more. More than likely, some of these individuals have been caught up in the mass arrests and detained. 

This may be a popular activity among anti-immigrant crowds, who think all crime derives from foreigners, but it doesn't do anything to solve the essential issues: a huge back-log, arbitrary procedures, and wrongful detention.  Not to mention its hugely expensive and engages tons of government employees who could be, just to pick an example at random, going through asylum claims or granting residence permits to those entitled to one.

There are different ways of getting people off the street than throwing them in jail.

500 Detained in Athens Crackdown

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Way to be in a PSG: Obama's new Guidelines on LGBTI Asylum

As promised, I wanted to highlight some of the guidelines offered by USCIS in their new training module on handling asylum claims of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Intersex persons. I've discussed LBQT (but not Intersex) asylum claims on this blog before, and one of the big themes encountered was the phenom of being"not gay enough for the USA"- individuals being turned down for asylum claims because their outward behavior did not match preconceived notions of what gay people act like. (For example, a lesbian with a child from a previous marriage, a man not "out" to his friends or family.) Let's check out how the new training addresses these and other important issues.

Defining LGBTI
Towards the beginning of the guidelines there is a set of definitions which does an excellent job of dispelling certain myths and the LGBTI community. For example, the section differentiates between sexual orientation, sex, and gender identity, and defines intersex and transgender deftly as well, being sure to not lump all categories into one.
 "Transgender is a gender identity, not a sexual orientation. Thus, like any other man or woman, a transgender person may have a heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual sexual orientation." (at 13)
Additionally, the module lumps in HIV and AIDs issues- both because persons with AIDs are sometimes persecuted for being gay (even when they are not) and persons who are gay are sometimes persecuted for having AIDs (even when they do not.) 

Havana Social Club- Does being gay put you in a "particular social group?"
As you may recall, to qualify as a refugee under the 1951 convention you must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country on the basis of your race, national origin, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. LGBTI asylum claims have long been handled under the "membership in a particular social group" (PSG) portion of 1951, and the case that is most relied on is Matter of Acosta. (I previously reviewed Acosta here.)

The guidelines make a point of adding to Acosta a newer precedent relevant in making immigration decisions for the LGBTI crowd: Matter of Toboso Alfonso (1990), a case involving a Cuban national claiming persecution for being gay. In Cuba, the government would force him to appear for forced exams where he was probed about his sex life, detain him on occasion, and tolerate harassment and violence against him and other gays, culminating in being chased out of Cuba by what amounted to an angry mob. In the case, TA had been convicted of several crimes making him ineligible for asylum, but the judge granted "leave from deportation" (which has similar criteria) on the basis of his past persecution in Cuba, where he was overtly targeted as a homosexual. The INS appealed, stating (rather heartlessly, even for back then),"socially deviant behavior, ie, homosexual activity is not a basis for finding a social group within the contemplation of the act." They went on to explain that such a decision would pave the way for people to be awarded protection for deviant, even illegal behavior in their home country. Are we going to start granting asylum to people that broke their country's law and don't want to go to jail?

The BIA disagreed, finding that TA was targeted not so much due to his illegal or deviant behavior, but because of his status as a homosexual, an "immutable characteristic" that he could not, and should not be required to change. Thus we have it: a game-changing BIA decision filing "gay" as a potential particular social group under the refugee convention as well as the US's own laws.

Now, this was a specific case with a man whose story left very little room for doubt that he was being persecuted on the basis of his "status" as a gay man. However, the guidelines now set out to make it crystal clear that this decision was not just about gay male Cubans. PSGs might be also be comprised of transgendered persons (gay or straight), "closeted" gays and lesbians, HIV+ persons, persons viewed by society as not fitting gender roles (eg, being an effeminate male) AND (in case you aren't getting it) people who are NOT EVEN from Cuba. (at 15.) The point is, the kind of neanderthals that want to beat up sexual minorities are not going to care if you're not actually a sexual minority. And that doesn't mean you shouldn't get protection.

So it covers people that might look or act gay (through the persecutor's eyes) but aren't. But it also effectively states that you don't have to "look or act gay"to fit into the precedents of TA or Matter of Acosta.
When analyzing the PSG issue, you must not only make a finding regarding immutability or fundamentality, you must also determine social visibility or social distinction, i.e., whether the actual or imputed characteristic is "easily recognizable and understood by others to constitute a social group." Some adjudicators mistakenly believe that social visibility or distinction requires that the applicant “look gay or act gay.”  In this context, social visibility or distinction does not mean visible to the eye. Rather, this means that the society in question distinguishes individuals who share this trait from individuals who do not. (at 16.)
 In other words, the Obama administration is promulgating as US law an important, and possibly life-saving principle: when it comes to the LGBTI community, one's membership in a PSG is all in the eyes of the persecutor.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Non-Citizen News Round-Up



Refugee Camp in Boynuyogan, Turkey in June (via MSNBC

Italy: The European Court of Human Rights issues a major smackdown to Italy this week, ruling in Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy that the policy of intercepting migrant boats at sea and returning them (most often to Libya) breached their various obligations of non-refoulement. (Not exactly tough to see why.) This case is HUGE because its one of the rare instances the Court has ruled on the prohibition against mass-expulsion, as well as adding to already strong migrants and refugee rights jurisprudence at the court. Check it out!
Case of Hirsi Jamaa and Others v. Italy (ECtHR) 
Yet Another Mala Figura: Italy Breached Non-Refoulement Obligations (EJIL Blog)

USA: In news welcomed by LGBQT Refugee advocates, the Obama administration has published clarified rules for courts and asylum officers on adjudicating asylum claims based on membership in one of these persecuted social group. I will probably do a full post on this later but for now there is every reason to be pleased at this news, particularly since the glance I've taken shows the gov moving away from the "married/pregnant/ straight-looking people can't be persecuted as gay" techniques that characterized past cases in the US.
Guidance for Adjudicating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Refugee and Asylum Claims (USCIS) (pdf)
LBQT Asylum in US Made a Little Easier (Care 2)


Turkey: Of course, more than any other story this week, focus should be on the Syrians streaming into Turkey fleeing increasing violence. There are now reports that landmines have been laid across escape routes to prevent would-be refugees from escaping. Meanwhile, in response to the emergency UNHCR has appointed a special coordinator for the region's refugees and internally displaced.
On the Turkish Border, a Stream of Fleeing Syrians (Reuters)
Syria: Army Planting Banned Landmines (Human Rights Watch)
UNHCR appioints regional refugee coordinator for Syrian Refugees (UNHCR)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Gigantic new CoE report on Roma Rights Tackles Statelessness

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for Human Rights, has been a total rockstar when it comes to defending the rights of Roma and stateless persons in Europe. So it comes as no surprise that he is behind a massive new report coming out today called "Human Rights of Roma and Travellers in Europe". The report is 254 pages covering 47 countries, and covers as many relevant topics as you could ask for: forced sterilization, hate speech, human trafficking, housing issues, and of course- statelessness and access to documentation. 

I haven't had a chance to read through the entire thing yet (I did just get it 10 minutes ago, after all) but from what I can tell there is serious attention paid to the issue of statelesssness among Roma. Interestingly, the report doesn't fuss around with distinctions between de facto and de jure statelessness, nor does he bother characterizing people as "at a risk for statelessness" or "legally invisible." Nope, for the purposes of this report, anyone not having access to citizenship rights is stateless, an admirably bold position for the CoE to take.

I would of course recommend reading through the entire document as it is packed with damning evidence and will be an extremely useful compilation of Roma rights violations in this decade. However I would like to just except this portion from the statelessness section, offering recommendations for tackling the problem.
-Providing free legal aid for proceedings aimed at securing
documentation;
–Waiving fees for civil registration for those in destitution;
– Making it possible to establish personal status through simplified
procedures such as witnesses’ testimonials when no other
evidence can be obtained;
– Strengthening the role of Ombudsperson institutions to solve
these issues;
– Acceding to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality, the
2006 Council of Europe Convention on the avoidance of statelessness
in relation to state succession as well as to the two UN
conventions on statelessness. (Section 7)
I fully agree with these ideas, and it sounds very much like Hammarberg has been listening to the NGO world in framing solutions.

You can find the full report here.